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Bears-Lions matchups and predictions

Bears cornerback Charles Tillman breaks up pass intended for Lions wide receiver CalvJohnsOct. 22. The Bears Tillman held Johnshis lowest

Bears cornerback Charles Tillman breaks up a pass intended for Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson on Oct. 22. The Bears and Tillman held Johnson to his lowest total of the season that night, 34 yards. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

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STAFF PREDICTIONS

RICK MORRISSEY: 24-14 Bears

Season: 13-2

RICK TELANDER: 28-14 Bears

Season: 12-3

DAN McGRATH: 35-31 Bears

Season: 10-5

SEAN JENSEN: 27-13 Bears

Season: 10-5

MARK POTASH: 24-17 Bears

Season: 12-3

ADAM L. JAHNS: 24-16 Bears

Season: 8-3

WEEK 17

BEARS AT LIONS

Time: Noon Sunday at Ford Field.

TV: Fox-32 (Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa).

Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM.

Line: Bears by 3.

Total: 45.

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

ON THE GROUND

The Bears rushed for 171 yards on 32 carries (5.3 avg.) against the Lions at Soldier Field — their second-best rushing game of the season — and still struggled to win 13-7. Matt Forte ran well last week at Arizona (12-88, 1 TD) but suffered his third ankle injury of the season early in the second half and was limited in practice this week. With Michael Bush on IR and Armando Allen banged up, the Bears might turn to Kahlil Bell or the mysterious Harvey Unga to pitch in. Led by Forte (22-116), the Bears rushed for 122 yards on 25 carries (4.9 avg.) vs. the Lions at Ford Field last year but lost 24-13.

IN THE AIR

Jay Cutler often struggles in the face of constant pressure, but he has been able to weather the storm at Ford Field much better than any other road venue — passer ratings of 122.0, 117.0 and 99.6 (6 TDs 0 INTs) in three games with the Bears. Though the Lions’ pass rush is formidable with Suh, Avril and Kyle VandenBosch, the pass defense is vulnerable, especially if hard-hitting safety Louis Delmas is still hampered by a knee injury. Cutler was 16-for-31 for 150 yards and a 7-yard TD to Brandon Marshall in the win at Soldier Field. He likely will need to be much more productive this time.

KEY MATCHUP

Bears RT Gabe Carimi vs. Lions DE Cliff Avril

The Bears generally contain Ndamukong Suh, but Avril has created problems almost every time the Bears have faced him. Carimi will be challenged in his first game in a place that challenges linemen to avoid false-start penalties.

WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL

On the ground

RB Mikel Leshoure (200-741, 3.7 ypc, 9 TDs) has struggled in the second half (52 ypg, 3.3 ypc in 7 games), but he has scored five TDs in that span. Leshoure gained 63 yards on 12 carries (5.3 ypc) against the Bears at Soldier Field but had a key fumble at the Bears’ 18 late in the first half with the Lions trailing 10-0. Joique Bell, a 5-11, 220-pound power back, can’t be overlooked. Bell (80-408, 5.1, 3 TDs) had a 67-yard run against the Colts. The Bears’ defense has struggled vs. elite rushers in the second half (Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch) but should be able to handle this.

In the air

Calvin Johnson is having the most prolific season ever for an NFL wide receiver (117-1,892, 5 TDs). He’s averaging 161 yards in his last 7 games. But the Bears and Tillman held him to his lowest total of the season in their last meeting. Johnson, though, is always a threat. He had 5 catches for 130 yards and a 73-yard TD against the Bears at Ford Field last year. Despite Johnson’s brilliance, QB Matthew Stafford is having a down year (17 TDs, 16 INTs, 79.2), and the Bears usually beat him up pretty good. He was 28-for-46 for 263 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT at Soldier Field.

Key matchups

Bears CB Charles Tillman vs. Lions WR Calvin Johnson

Johnson was targeted 11 times but managed only 3 catches for 34 yards against Tillman and the Bears in October at Soldier Field. Johnson won’t be easy to contain at Ford Field, especially with the 2,000-yard mark in sight.

SPECIAL TEAMS

One last time — Devin Hester is due. The best kick returner in NFL history has yet to return a punt or KO for a TD this season. But he had his second 40-yard KO return of the season last week. The Lions allowed 4 kick returns for TDs early in the season but have been solid since. Despite personnel changes all year, the Bears’ coverage units are among the NFL’s best — No. 1 in punt coverage (3.5 ypr, with a long of 17) and third in KO coverage (20.4 ypr, with a long of 38).

X-FACTOR

Despite all the noise and the vicious pass rush, the Bears have played well against the Lions at Ford Field in recent years, and so has Cutler. But there’s more on the line than ever in this one. The Bears need a victory to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Lions, who always go all-out against the Bears, will be going even more all-out in this one. It’s up to the Bears to respond to the mental and physical pressure to prove themselves worthy of a playoff berth.



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